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FEATURE17 December 2018

Review 2018: biggest developments of the year

AI Data analytics Features Innovations Privacy Technology Trends

As we approach the end of another year, it’s time to take a look at some of the market research industry’s biggest issues over the past 12 months. We spoke to a cross-section of the industry to ask: what has been the most significant development of 2018, either in terms of technology or methodology?

Although technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain made a big impression in some corners, others failed to be convinced, while transparency and industry mergers also stood out.

Adele Gritten, managing director, Future Thinking
The infancy of blockchain. While still very nascent to the world of research and insight, blockchain technology will increasingly become central to how we interact with research participants, suppliers, business partners and essentially how we set up our internal systems, tech architectures and longer-term, how we approach vast data sets analysis. Basically, the ramifications of blockchain ubiquity are huge. We’re only at the start of understanding the countless commercial opportunities and efficiencies.

Desirée Lopez, chief executive, Flamingo Group
The most significant development relates to a wider cultural movement centred around a demand for truth, transparency and the desire for individuals to take back control over how brands, politics and society are shaped. With that in mind, understanding people in the round is more important than ever, as is our ability to ensure the people we work with help shape our ways of working.

Methodologically speaking, integrated methods that pair tech with robust, human-centred insight – such as passive tracking with user analysis – alongside more traditional deep observational approaches or semiotics-led future scenario planning have all been major developments in 2018.

Crawford Hollingworth, founder, The Behavioural Architects
We have begun to see the vast potential of artifical intelligence (AI) to look at data from a million angles, searching for patterns, for understanding and for insights which can aid better decision making. But, at the same time, we have also seen the huge growth of technological fear, with talk of the technological singularity and the accompanying human redundancy this could bring. 2019 will see a much needed re-frame of how the power of AI can deliver more health, happiness and even wealth.

Joe Staton, client strategy director, GfK
Big developments in the consumer debate about privacy and security casting a shadow over the entire marketing communications industry now and for years to come. It brought the debate about consumer rights in the digital era to the top of the news and political agenda. There’s no going back.

Tom Ewing, head of communications and market intelligence, System1
The most significant developments haven’t been either [technology or methodology] – the Game Of Thrones-style manoeuvring at the top of WPP will reshape the industry in 2019, as will mega-deals like SAP buying Qualtrics or one of the big companies selling up. 2018 was when industry change hit the business front pages and the road will keep on getting bumpier.

Deborah Mattinson, founding partner, BritainThinks
Thinking about the impact of tech on method, using very targeted social media for recruitment has been transformative. That said, I think some of the most interesting work we have done this year has been rediscovering traditional methods like diaries, as in our Brexit Diaries work.

Annie Pettit, research methodologist
Without a doubt, artificial intelligence delivered the main course of 2018. Fifty years in the making and it chose 2018 to break through in our industry. It’s now being used for chatbot questionnaires, as a moderator in voice assisted questionnaires, and to generate responses to demographic questions like age and gender via facial recognition. The outputs are more or less valid and reliable depending on the tool but, as an entry point, we’ve done a stunning job of throwing AI at everything to see what would stick. Dessert included a large slice of blockchain pie. Stay tuned for blockchain to disrupt our views on privacy, security, and ethics in the coming year.

Jane Rudling, managing director, Walnut Unlimited
We have seen virtual reality become a viable methodology for shopper and retail research. By integrating eye-tracking technology with virtual environments, our industry can offer real added value by measuring and understanding how and why people respond to certain stimulus in mocked-up environments. For large retailers, this now becomes a game-changer in providing quick and cost-effective ways to test new retail concepts without creating them in the real world.

Andy Brown, chief executive, Kantar Media
At the risk of sounding like a cliché, I would have to say the rise of voice activation for consumer application. As with all new technologies, voice activation is creating both challenges and opportunities for the research industry. This year, we have started tracking and measuring voice activation and can already see the ways in which it is changing consumer behaviour.

Greg Clayton, managing director, Kadence International
To me, 2018 has been a year of evolution. AI, automation, data breaches were all around before, and will be around after, but it doesn’t feel that 2018 has been a particular tipping point for any one topic. The industry has been building on these previous technological developments to make them more agile and useful for research. Some of the work around voice-based tech like Alexa has been interesting, but I’m still waiting to see whether it’s just a temporary novelty.

Will Galgey, chief executive of insights, UK & Ireland, Kantar
The continued trend to automated, (almost) real-time research and its use to accelerate business processes ranging from innovation time to market, to creative development and execution.

Ben Hogg, managing director EMEA and APAC, Lucid
2018 has been a slow year for developments. AI, automation, and programmatic are continuing to grow apace in the industry, but none of those are new this year. We have certainly seen an increase in discussions around blockchain, but I am yet to be convinced of its value in research based on current proposed applications.

Over the course of the festive period and beyond, Research Live will publish a series of articles reviewing 2018 and looking ahead to what’s in store for 2019.